These 8 Things Show How ISIS is Islamic

A group of Muslim scholars in India try to challenge the view that the Islamic State is Islamic. Al-Azhar University disagrees. Our resident Muslim Scholar takes sides.

BY Immanuel Al-Manteeqi · @Al_Manteeqi | July 11, 2016

In 2014, after President Obama and numerous others stated that ISIS was not Islamic, and indeed that it was anti-Islamic, al-Azhar University, the seat of Sunni learning in the Arab world, refused to denounce ISIS members as non-Muslims. The contrast was stark: Western leaders and Muslim apologists residing in the West denounce ISIS members as non-Muslims while the main representative of Sunni Islam refuses to do so.

Al-Azhar’s stance has drawn severe criticism from many quarters, and Al-Azhar ulema (i.e., religious scholars) have come under pressure to denounce ISIS members as non-Muslims.

However, in 2015, Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib, the grand imam of al-Azhar, doubled down on the official stance taken by the university, as he refused to condemn ISIS members as non-Muslims. He justified this position by stating that al-Azhar follows the Ash’ari theological school, which states that one cannot condemn as non-Muslim apostates people who profess the shahada (the testimony of faith in the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad)[1] and who direct their prayers toward the Ka’ba in Mecca.

But recently, a reportedly massive meeting of Indian Muslim scholars challenged this view. The ulema taking part in this meeting unanimously passed a resolution that condemned the recent attacks Islamist attacks and suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world. The resolution also denounced ISIS as not only un-Islamic, but anti-Islamic as well. The following is a relevant excerpt from the resolution:

The ISIS has nothing to do with Islam and its principles and tenets, and, in fact, all its activities and terror attacks are meant to strike at the very roots of Islam. The ISIS is not only unIslamic but acts as a tool in the hands of Western forces who are enemies of Islam. In the garb of Muslims, they are defaming Islam. [emphasis mine]

It is good to see many Muslim scholars coming together to condemn ISIS. However, this condemnation has to be grounded in facts and evidence, not upon wishful thinking. Indeed, the above excerpt itself hints at a primary motive for this resolution. These Muslim scholars believe that Western “enemies of Islam” are using ISIS to defame the name of Islam. To these Muslim scholars, ISIS members are “defaming Islam,” particularly in the hostile West, and so they want, as much as they can, to rectify the image of Islam to Westerners. Therefore, their resolution is nothing more than another mentally strained attempt at Islamic apologetics. The simple fact of the matter is that there is hardly any ground for claiming that ISIS “has nothing to do with Islam”—and that is why al-Azhar has refused to condemn ISIS members as non-Muslims. In what follows, I offer prima facie considerations that ISIS is indeed an Islamic movement.[2]

1. All ISIS members are Muslims

Not a single member of ISIS holds to a faith other than Sunni Islam. What unites all ISIS members, who hail from many different countries and positions in the socioeconomic ladder, is their shared commitment to a particular militant interpretation of Islam.

2. The idea of a caliphate, a central notion in ISIS’s philosophy, is incontrovertibly an exclusively Islamic notion.

3. The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, has a PhD in Islamic studies from Saddam University.[3]

4. Al-Azhar University, the scholarly seat of Sunni Islam, has refused to denounce ISIS militants as non-Muslims.[4]

Indeed, as various commentators have pointed out, some of al-Azhar’s books and professors teach violent subjugation of infidels through jihad, and the acquirement of female sex slaves, both staple doctrines of ISIS.

5. ISIS is an offshoot of Al-Qa’ida, a self-proclaimed Islamic organization whose doctrines are very similar to those of ISIS.[5]

6. Tens of millions of Muslims the world over support ISIS, and more than 200 million do not express an explicitly unfavorable view towards ISIS.[6]

7. The symbols and features of ISIS are Islamic: the black flags that they fly (which refer to Muhammad and Allah), the growing of their beards (which comes from the ahadeeth), the “nasheeds” or hymns that they play in their videos, and their citation of Islamic authorities like Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328)).

8. The type of punishments that ISIS carries out, from slicing the hands of thieves (Q 5:38), to crucifying people (Q 5:33), to the stoning of adulterers, are all distinctive punishments found in the earliest Islamic source texts.[7]

Cumulatively, these eight points make a prima facie good case for ISIS’ being an Islamic movement. So, in the absence of adequate evidence to the contrary, one should believe that ISIS is an Islamic movement.

Indeed, Bernard Hayekel, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, thinks that the debate over whether ISIS is islamic is a waste of time because it abundantly clear that they are. The following are his concise and poignant words here:

To say that IS is not Islamic is inaccurate. IS is definitely an Islamic movement; they are an extreme Islamic movement, but to say that they are not Muslims or that they are outside the interpretive parameters of Islam is factually incorrect. You know, ending up in this debate [about whether IS] is Islamic or not Islamic is a total waste of time. There is no question that these people are drawing inspiration from Islamic texts. There is no doubt. And they know these texts better than most Muslims.[8]

It is time to face the facts. The people who join ISIS, no matter how immoral they might be, are Muslims, and ISIS is a thoroughly Islamic organization. ISIS members are not non-Muslims, and certainly are not anti-Islamic, as Western Islam apologists like Hamza Yusuf would have you believe.[9]

The fight against ISIS and its cohorts cannot be won until world leaders in the West follow the advice of Sun-Tzu—viz., “know your enemy.” We must know who our enemies are, and should not ignore the influence of the ideologies that they claim to follow.

No, just labeling ISIS as Islamic radicals is not a sufficient condition for ending the Islamic violence that we see the world over, but it is a necessary condition.

It must be realized that that we are not in war with terrorism; terrorism is just a tactic used by radical Islamists. Rather, we are in war with Islamists and radical Islam, a type of Islam that has plausible justification in Islamic history and Islamic source texts.

Further, it must be admitted that ISIS members the world over are acting out of primarily religious beliefs, and not out of socio-economic reasons.

Indeed, since ISIS members are signing up to put their lives on the line for the Islamic state, the latter reason is certainly not their primary motivation. Their primary motivation is jihad fi sabeel i’llah, or Jihad for the sake of Allah. They seek nothing less than the subjugation of the entire world to Islam and sharia.

[1] The shahada is considered to be the first of the five pillars of Islam.

[2] An analysis of the Islamicity of ISIS’ most notorious actions is beyond the scope of this short article.

[3] William McCants, “The ISIS Apocalypse,” 74, 117.

[4] General Secretariat of the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar, “الأزهر: مفتي نيجيريا لم يكفر داعش في مؤتمر مكافحة الإرهاب,” Al-Azhar University, December 11, 2014, www.azhar.eg/en-us/الأمانة_العامة_للمجلس_الأعلى_للأزهر/الأزهر-مفتي-نيجيريا-لم-يكفر-داعش-في-مؤتمر-مكافحة-الإرهاب.

[5] William McCants, “The ISIS Apocalypse,” 5-31.

[6] This data is ultimately based on the Pew Research Center’s November 2015 poll. See Jacob Poushter, “In nations with significant Muslim populations, much disdain for ISIS,” Pew Research Center, November 17, 2015, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/17/in-nations-with-significant-muslim-populations-much-disdain-for-isis. The above figures are inferred from the Pew Research Center’s data in conjunction with the July 2015 population estimates found in the CIA World Factbook.

[7] For the prescription of stoning for adultery, see Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 2, Book 23, Hadith 413, et al.

[8] “Bernard Haykel: How Islamic is the Islamic State?,” YouTube video, 3:08, posted by “Buno Braak,” Nov. 23, 2014.

[9] “The Crisis of ISIS: A Prophetic Prediction | Sermon by Hamza Yusuf,” YouTube video, 12:38, posted by “Zaytuna College,” Sept. 19, 2014.



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